The Fastest Way To Accomplish More This Week

Bryan Collins

It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, at the start of your career or running the company, everyone gets the same 168 hours each week to use or waste. So can you avoid spending those precious hours on the wrong things? 

Nir Eyal is the author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. He's also an angel investor, productivity consultant and former university lecturer.

In his latest book, Eyal proposes a simple technique that helps claim back the week from other people's commitments and from procrastination and distraction. Called time-boxing, it involves deciding what you're going to do in advance. The foundation of this technique is a concept psychologists call an implementation intention.

“Psychologists ... have verified ... that if you plan ahead, if you decide what it is you want to do and what time you want to do it, you become much, much more likely to actually follow through,” he says.
“By simply planning what we want to do and when we want to do it, we can overcome many of our distractions," says Eyal. "Have a template for what your ideal week looks like and what makes an ideal week. And a week that is based on turning your values into time.”

One Sunday evening, I spent about 30 minutes time-boxing my week. If you need help Eyal offers a free scheduling tool. I broke the proceeding seven days into 30-minute increments and filled each block of time with a task or activity. Examples included: writing, training, family time, calls and meetings, administration, DIY and socialising.

“Don't leave any white space. If you have white space on your calendar, somebody is going to plan your time for you, unless you've decided in advance what you want to do with it,” Eyal says.
“We can't call something a distraction unless we know what it distracted us from. So we have to account for that time based on how we want to spend that time, so that we don't find ourselves wasting it doing something frivolous.”

Why Time Off Matters

Based on Eyal's advice, I also allocated time for socialising, meditation, reading, watching Netflix and generally doing nothing. This sort of planning felt odd at first, but Eyal says,

“You're not just scheduling time for productive tasks. The time you plan to waste is not wasted time. It's about planning that time with intent for however long you want to spend that time doing it.”

One friend said planning a week in advance sounds rigid, but constraints can free up a person to be creative and spontaneous. After using this technique, I spotted parts of the workweek (and weekends) where I was wasting hours working on the wrong things or just procrastinating. 

“On the weekend I might plan three or four hours to spend with my daughter or my wife, and we call this planned spontaneity. And so we don't really know what we're going to do with that time. We may go to the park, we may go to the museum, we may play a board game,” he says. 
“I've held that time aside for them so that I know what I will not do with that time. I will not be on my phone checking work email. I will not be on social media. I will not be checking YouTube. I will be fully present with my family.”

The final step involves syncing a proposed week with a boss, partner or spouse and other stakeholders. In my case, I asked my wife what family commitments I'd missed and checked my ideal workweek against my actual calendar in Outlook.

“Sit down with your boss, and you say, 'Look boss, this is what I plan to do with my day. Did I account for everything that I need to do? And here's the stuff I don't have time for. Help me reprioritise how to spend that time,'” Eyal suggests. 
“Bosses don't ask people to do this, because they don't want them to think that they're being micromanaged. But your boss is desperate for you to do this,” he said.

Whether you work for yourself or within a company, time-boxing can unlock more free time from a typical work week. And it only takes a few minutes to apply. Setting time aside to plan my week and syncing this calendar with key stakeholders is now a part of my routine.

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Bryan Collins is an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work

Ireland, IN

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